Tuesday 21. September 2021
#203 - April 2017

What are the aims of the European security and defence policy?

In view of current strategic uncertainties, the EU has no choice other than to strengthen its security and defence policy, whilst at the same time continue to prioritise its peaceful strategies.

The EU has to confront a difficult situation: the UK’s departure, tensions with Russia, the terrorist threat, a significant increase in pressures due to migration mainly from areas of conflict.


Faced with this situation, Europeans turn in the first instance to their own national institutions, a state of affairs which may eventually threaten the EU’s political cohesion. The latter therefore has a duty to prove to Europeans in practical terms that it is the most effective level for taking decisions for their protection.


It is to this end that the strengthening of internal and external security aspects was one of the main objectives of the road-map adopted by the leaders of the 27 member states in Bratislava on the 16 September 2016 in reaction to the UK’s decision to leave.


The principles of the EU’s security and defence policy

In terms of external security, the EU already has a sound juridical and institutional experience. Since 1998-1999 it has drawn up a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) which allows it to lead civilian and military missions with a view to keeping the peace, preventing conflicts, and strengthening international security.


Within this framework, European forces are today a presence in the Mediterranean (to prevent migrant trafficking), the Central African Republic, Mali and Somalia (military training), on the Somali coast (fight against piracy), and in Bosnia-Herzgovenia (peace-keeping). The Union is also leading about ten civilian missions offering support to police forces as well as missions as observers.


The CSDP missions are under the authority of the EU Council and the High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy assisted by a permanent political/military structure (political and security committee, military committee).


In addition, there exists the European Defence Agency to improve European defence cooperation. However, its achievements are modest. The majority of Member States have chosen to entrust most of their collective management of external security to NATO.


Towards a more effective and ambitious European security and defence policy?

During the second semester of 2016, the 27 Member States decided to strengthen the CSDP by adopting the EU Global Strategy drawn up by the High Representative and approved by the European Council in June. In order to strengthen Europe’s strategic autonomy, they adopted in November 2016 an important programme of common actions in relation to defence. Its implementation chiefly concerns the following areas; strengthening of civilian and military capabilities in crisis management, in particular through the establishment of a European staff, the creation of a military equipment fund which would eventually (after 2020) be allocated 5 billion euros for investments and 500 million euros for research, an increase in defence aid from member nations to progressively bring it to represent 2% of GDP. In addition, the EU intends to better contribute to the stability of partner countries.


The election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States has given this programme a new urgency. The new administration is making the American guarantee of European security contingent on there being a significant increase in European defence efforts. This request for Europe to take financial responsibility for a greater part of the cost of its own security seems legitimate since a sharing of the burden brings with it a sharing of responsibilities.


Stumbling blocks to be avoided

Two stumbling blocks will however need to be avoided.

Protecting the necessary transatlantic bond could not justify actions contrary to the values of European interests such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the consequence of which was to increase instability in the Middle East.


In addition, the EU will need to be wary of an excessive militarisation of its security policy. Its non-military strategies, notably in the economic domain, prevention strategy, its participation in the collective security mechanisms of the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) contribute to its security just as much as does a single military deterrence. The objective of disarmament, including nuclear must be integrated within the security strategy of Europe. Finally, the need for a hefty increase in military expenditure of up to 2% of GDP is far from being a given considering the risk of the arms race it might engender.

Michel Drain

Research Associate at l'Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI)

member of Justice et Paix France


 Translated from the original text in French


EN The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.